Golf’s Mental Game- Choose Confidence and Eliminate Expectations

By Dr. Mike Grevlos
March 19, 2012

Have you played your first round of the season?  If so, how did it go?  In this blog, I discuss two experiences common to the first round.  First, some players play surprisingly well; in fact, they may play better than their typical midseason game.  Others play as if they haven’t touched a club for, well, 6 months.  Let’s start with the first experience.

Success early in the golf season is often associated with having low or no expectations. Here, an expectation is defined as a belief about how you “should” play.  When you have not played for a long time, it would make sense to have low expectations.  The brain usually needs time to calibrate the body with the swing, the ball, and the visuals of the course.  However, while away from the game, the brain can still retain the memory traces of your best swings.  So, it is possible to play well right away.  To do so, though, requires that you “get out of your own way” so that you can activate these weakened movement memories.  Having low expectations can help you do this.  Being curious about how it will go and having a “see what happens” mentality helps you swing freely – without interference, tension, or pressure – enabling you to perform at a high level.  Hopefully, finding your game this quickly will boost your confidence.  Unfortunately, rather than build a healthy belief in their possibilities, many players create expectations.  In other words, instead of realizing how they “can” play, they get caught up in how they “should” play.  This increases pressure and makes it hard to focus properly, leading to a predictable return to a less-than-desirable golf game.  It is not easy, but it is important to build awareness of the inner attitude that was present during your best play and then strive to maintain this way of thinking in subsequent rounds.

Other players struggle early in the season.  I typically fit into this group.  I played baseball in college and I was a bit of a slow starter.  I would consistently start the year out 1 for 10 at the plate.  During my senior year, my batting average was only about .150 nearly half way through the season until I finally turned it on and hit .500 for the remainder of the year.  Hopefully you won’t take that long to get it going, but if you do start slowly, there is no need to panic.  It is hard to predict how retrievable your movement memories will be after a layoff, especially if you have been tweaking your understanding of the golf swing by reading golf magazines, viewing Web videos, or watching instructional programs on The Golf Channel.  It is certainly valuable to continue to increase your knowledge, but it also means that your brain will now have a more difficult job of calibrating this new information with last season’s movements, which can make you feel “out of sync” and lead to interesting, wayward shots.  During this time, it is important to keep a sense of humor and remain optimistic.  When “bad” events happen to pessimists, they think thoughts like, “I have lost it” and “I am NEVER going to get any better.”  An optimist thinks, “This is just the beginning of the season,” “It won’t last long,” and “It will come.”  Optimistic thinking allows you to keep hope even when you are struggling.  To start the year out right with the greatest enjoyment and the best chance for improving, choose confidence and eliminate expectations.

Dr. Mike Grevlos

1 Comment

  1. i agree. I am currently back playing golf after doing wrestling this winter in highschool and was shooting around par. Now i am shooting mid to high seventys. I have been hitting the ball the same but my putting has gotten worse. i know it is all in my head but i cant seem to shake it. Any ideas?

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